Based at the romantic address of 9109 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Crest Records opened its doors in 1954, released its first records in 1955 and closed less than a decade later. It was a division of the music-publishing firm American Music, run by Sylvester Cross.
Cross owned some perennially popular copyrights like the Sons of the Pioneers songbook and became wealthy by investing the money he made into property.
Unlike other independent record companies of the time, Crest was wide-ranging in its musical scope; some said it was trying to rival Liberty Records, a major pop label of the day. This aim may have been over-ambitious, but while it was around Crest put out entertaining music in several genres.
It had two real giants on its books in Eddie Cochran and Glen Campbell, and their fingerprints are all over this compilation. Campbell not only offers early single ‘Turn Around, Look At Me’ – his first ever Billboard chart entry at Number 62– but also appeared on the instrumental ‘Buzzsaw’, released under the name of the Gee Cees (his initials), and backed his uncle, Dick Bills, on guitar.
Eddie Cochran’s arrival at Crest followed his signing to American Music as a songwriter; his first solo record after recording as half of the Cochran Brothers was ‘Skinny Jim’, issued in July 1956 with ‘Half Loved’ on the flip. He would go on to great success on Liberty from 1957 before meeting an untimely end on tour in Britain in 1960.
In 1956, however, he was a ubiquitous presence around Crest Records, adding his guitar to many recordings by others; Bo Davis’ ‘Drowning All My Sorrows’ is a notable example. Tom Tall, who fronted the Tom Kats, was a friend of Eddie’s and even played the same model of Gretsch guitar as him; it’s Tom’s distinctive solo on ‘Stack-A-Records’. Another key figure was Jerry Capehart, who had managed Eddie and discovered Glen Campbell.
One of Crests youngers stars was Marty Cooper, who moved to California from Denver in his early teens. While still in high school he found Crest Records in the telephone directory, and they issued his first single, ‘Can’t Walk Em Off’, in 1958. The record got Cooper’s foot in the music-business door; his composition ‘Peanut Butter’ was a Top 20 hit for vocal group the Marathons in 1961, and he left school to pursue music full-time. ‘Can’t Walk Em Off’ features the legendary Plas Johnson on sax.
Glen Garrison, whose debut single ‘Lovin’ Lorene’, features here, went on to record with distinction for Imperial before dying young in a car crash in Arkansas in 1971. Buddy Lowe also made a career post-Crest, following Glen’s path to the Imperial label, while Bobby Grabeau, born Robert F Grabot in Pittsburg, California, had already made a name as a big-band singer before trying his hand at pop; he’s heard here with the Teenettes. His career later included a spell singing on Disney movie-related recordings in Hollywood.
The Four Young Men were Wayne Moore, Ernie Williams, Gib Guilbeau and Darrell Cotton. Not only did they record in their own right, with three songs on our compilation, but they also added backing vocals to Crest’s most successful single. ‘You’re The Reason’ peaked just one place short of the Billboard Top 10 in late 1961, its success inspiring covers by Hank Locklin and Joe South.
The lead singer and credited artist was Bobby Edwards, an Alabama-born country crooner whose real name was Robert Moncrief. This was to be his only major hit, a soundalike follow-up on Capitol, ‘What’s The Reason’, stalling at Number 71 the following year. By the end of the Sixties he had retired from singing to run a recording studio in his hometown of Anniston.
Our compilation ends with ‘Three Stars’, issued after Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper perished in a February 1959 air crash. Performed by its writer, DJ Tommy Dee of radio station KFXM-San Bernardino, with backing from Carol Kay and the Teen-Aires, it was Crest’s biggest Billboard pop-chart hit at this point, peaking at Number 11 that summer.
‘Three Stars’ has a place in pop history not only as one of the first tribute records, arguably a forerunner to Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’, but also has an added resonance given Eddie Cochran’s demise within a year. Cochran himself did a version of ‘Three Stars’ that is less often heard. For more details of this, and the label in general, consult Paul Vidal’s www.bigvjamboree.com website.
Sylvester Cross, owner of both the label and parent American Music, was also to depart this life in the early Sixties. Sylvester’s widow sold the American Music catalogue to Hill and Range and shut down operations, spelling the end of the Crest Records story. Listen to the music of a label that, despite sharing the name of America’s leading toothpaste, was good for the ears!